The three of us were crammed into the van with five other passengers as we left Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and headed out into the flat lands of Israel. The scene was strangely like traveling through California’s Central Valley with the 4-lane concrete motorway straight and smooth. On either side of the highway were vast fields of produce; cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes extending all the way to the foothills in the distance. The soil was naturally arid, irrigation bringing abundant life; without it, the floor of the plain would revert to the brown barrenness that it had been for centuries prior. In another 45 minutes we would reach Jerusalem, but first we would have to climb some 700 meters in elevation.
As we ascended into the hillsides, the cooler climate of the higher elevation allowed conifers to grow with surprising success, considering the lack of rainfall; a few at first, followed by stands, then small forests. Weaving through the trees, we turned off at an interchange and headed around a traffic circle. Suddenly, we were transported into tan-colored, endless suburbs.
Our driver seemed to know where he was going: a right, followed by two lefts. Two more rights and another half-dozen or so lefts and we reached the first stop: a nondescript concrete block of flats. The driver confirmed with Passenger #1 that this was The Place without ever needing to extinguish his cigarette. He finally ended his phone conversation in time to help pull Passenger #1’s luggage out of the back doors. Back in the driver’s seat, he slotted the Sprinter into first gear, checked his mirrors, took a drag on his smoke, and dialed his fourth call as we pulled into the street.